Council’s major change to 'Acknowledgement of Country'

The council is the second in the same state to vote to remove the acknowledgement in just one month.

An Australian local council has voted to remove their Acknowledgement of Country from meetings and official council communications.

The motion was presented without notice on November 21, stating officially that "Council delete the Acknowledgement of Country and banner on correspondence". The Northern Areas Council in South Australia is the second council in this state alone to remove the statement this month.

It comes just months after the country voted against enshrining the First Nations' voice in the constitution. Councillor Hank Langes proposed the motion and Councillor John Barberien seconded it — although it was passed, only five voted in favour while four voted against it.

Left image of a Northern Areas Council sign. Right image of a grassy area in the Northern Areas Council in South Australia.
The Northern Areas Council in South Australia has voted to remove the Acknowledgement of Country from official meetings and correspondence. Source: Facebook

Councillors say Acknowledgement separates country

Councillors were told during the meeting that Australia is "one country" and the policy, therefore, should be changed. Cr Langes, who introduced the idea, has not responded to requests for comment and Cr Barberien, who supported the motion initially, has formally declined to comment.

Now that the motion has passed, at the next sitting of Council in December there will no longer be an Acknowledgement of Country opening their council meeting and it will no longer be included in their council correspondence.

When approached by Yahoo News Australia about the move, Mayor Sue Scarman also declined to comment. However, she told The Adelaide Advertiser that she accepts the outcome of the vote.

"It’s a democracy," she told the paper. "This was a motion of council and it was carried, so I support it. My personal take is now null and void."

Headshots of Councillor Langes (left) and Councillor Barberien (right) from the Northern Areas Council website
The motion for the removal was moved by Cr Langes (left) and seconded by Cr Barberien (right). Source: Northern Areas Council website

The second South Australian council to remove acknowledgement

Playford council has also voted to remove reading out an Acknowledgement of Country at the start of every meeting after a motion passed on Tuesday.

Their debate to remove the statement was allegedly long and heated and they have added a stipulation that the acknowledgement will still be read out on special occasions and will remain on their website — unlike in the Northern Areas Council.

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Statement meant as show of respect by some councils

Other local councils across the country read the Acknowledgement of Country as a way "to publicly recognise" Indigenous people as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land.

The City of Adelaide Council state on their website that in May 2002 they accepted the need to acknowledge the traditional lands of the Kaurna people at the opening of every Council meeting. "Its purpose is to publicly recognise Kaurna people as the Traditional Owner and Custodians of the Adelaide Plains," they say.

Reconciliation Australia explains online that Acknowledging Country is important because the "history of dispossession and colonisation lies at the heart of the disparity between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other Australians today".

"Incorporating welcoming and acknowledgement protocols into official meetings and events recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners of land and shows respect".

Comes after Australia voted 'no' in 2023 referendum

Australia voted 'No' in The Voice to Parliament referendum earlier this year, which means there is no enshrined body or change to the constitution to recognise First Nations people. The Yes campaign's defeat was clear after only 90 minutes of the first polling stations closing, and many have feared the result was a major setback to the country's efforts for reconciliation with First Nations people.

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